According to our best scientific understanding, in a several billion years, our sun will begin exhausting its fuel. As this happens, it will begin to expand. This expansion will not be good for the earth. First, Mercury will be burned up. Then Venus will meet the same fate. Then, the Earth will be consumed by fire effectively wiping out whatever existence of life happens to be here at that point, and effectively wiping out any traces of our existence. It will be gone. Poof. No more.
As Christians, this shouldn’t be a surprise to us. I mean, the biblical record has been pretty clear that the earth one day will be consumed by fire. Our second lesson this morning couldn’t me any clearer on that note. 2 Peter verses 10-12 read, “10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. 11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire?”
I find it quite interesting that Peter, in the midst of this description of the annihilation of the earth includes a poignant question, “Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness?” If you read on to the end of this little snippet, you hear these words, “Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish.” If you aren’t careful in your reading and understanding, you will come to the conclusion that we need to be as diligent as possible in being good and doing good or else when the day of the Lord comes, we will face the wrath of God. If we aren’t spotless and blameless, then we will suffer the same fate as the earth–utter destruction and being consumed by the flames. But I don’t think this is the case. In fact, I think there is much more going on here. Peter is actually dealing with a heavy philosophical question–a question that takes root in the verses immediately preceding this morning’s reading. Let’s take a moment to look at those.
“3First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts 4and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!’ 5They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water, 6through which the world of that time was deluged with water and perished. 7But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgement and destruction of the godless.” Then we come to verse 8 and our reading for this morning.
I wanted you to see that Peter was trying to deal with those who scoff at Jesus’ return. These folks are indulging in their own lusts–they are living life large and enjoying every pleasure they can, and they are mocking Christians who are patiently waiting for Jesus to return. The scoffers are basically saying, “Hello! I thought you said Jesus was coming? I thought you said He would come and judge the world? He’s not showing up. I don’t see Him anywhere around. Look around. Things are happening as they have always happened. Nothing is changing. From the beginning of creation, things have always happened in this fashion. Why don’t you stop worrying about Jesus coming back? Why don’t you just enjoy life. Take whatever it has to offer. Enjoy its pleasures–for this is all there is.”
Those who are scoffing at the Christians are following the natural logic of those who say there is nothing beyond this world and this universe. Let me state that again. The scoffers St. Peter is dealing with are those who believe there is nothing more than this physical universe and this planet. They do not believe in a heaven or hell or judgement. For them, this world is all that there is, and they have come to the conclusion that life is short, and you’d better just enjoy what you can.
You and I have heard this said before. You and I have even probably even said it before. We know life is a fleeting thing. We know we only have a certain amount of time here before we are lying in a box or in an urn. And depending upon whether or not you believe there is something more than this deeply affects your life right here and now. What do I mean by that?
Well, think about it. If you believe this life is all there is and there is nothing more, then what are you here for? What ultimate difference do you make? Perhaps you make a difference in another person’s life for a short period of time. Perhaps you make someone’s life easier for a few days, months, or a year. If you are a tremendous leader, perhaps you make something easier for a group of people over a particular period of time. You may feel tremendously good about yourself, but in the very, very long run, who cares? In the very end, it doesn’t matter whether or not someone’s life was a little bit better or not. Whether or not they were good or bad has no effect on wether or not the earth will finally be burned to a crisp. Whether or not you tried to help people or not, you still end up buried in a grave, and 1000 years from now–even 100 years from now, no one will remember the things you did.
Many of you remember Mark Chapman. Some of you know he was a poet and published a couple of books. I can’t read the title of this poem* I want to share with you that he wrote because we are in church, but I’ll let you check out his book for the title and for the actual words to this poem. I changed a few, but even with those changes, this poem captures exactly what I am saying, and if you are honest with yourself, you know that it is true. The poem reads:
While walking through the cemetery
I noticed a curious fact
Not one stone said:
he had piles of money
he didn’t do squat**
he was loved by all
he was a complete jerk***
Just basic dates
etched in serenely indifferent granite,
saying only goodbye.
If there is nothing more than this world, then that is exactly where you end up. Many of the greatest thinkers the world has produced end up exactly with this conclusion. Now, don’t get me wrong: many people who believe this world is all that there is are good, decent, upstanding people. They do really good things. They are kind and compassionate. They believe people should do good deeds and get along with one another. They have good morals and behavior. They want to leave this world a better place, but I think they honestly ignore and deny the ultimate reality of their belief. If the earth is destined to be destroyed and life will come to an end no matter what we do–then all is ultimately meaningless. You might as well just enjoy whatever pleasures life can afford you. You might as well indulge. You might as well scoff at those who seek to restrain their passions. It’s all folly anyway.
If this world is all that there is.
But if it’s not...well, then that changes everything.
Christianity acknowledges that this world will come to an end. Christianity acknowledges that this world will end in fire and destruction, but Christianity does not acknowledge that this is the final end. Peter says, “13But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
You see, God loves the world. God loves His creation, and He does not wish to see it perish totally and completely. God does not want this world to be all that there is, and so He has prepared a new one–one where we will go to be with Him; where we will see Him face to face; where we will be reunited with those who have trusted Him; where all things will come under His rule and His order; where there will be no more rebellion against His will and His command.
And we know that entry into that new heaven and new earth is not based upon anything we can do. We can’t be good enough to enter it. We can’t follow God’s commands and His will to the extent needed to claim our spot in it. We can’t earn a place based upon our goodness and our righteousness because it’s just not sufficient enough. We only gain entry through Jesus and His actions on the cross. We only gain entry through what God has done and Jesus’ merit.
And God has shown this through the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is the first fruits of that new world. It is the beginnings of the new world where God ultimately defeats all evil including the evil of death. Jesus is the gate to that new heaven and new earth, and we place our trust in Him as we seek it out.
And it impacts how we live tremendously. It impacts us to our core because we see what that new heaven and new earth look like. We see that the new heaven and new earth is a place of peace and harmony. We see that the new heaven and new earth is a place where the lion lies down with the lamb. We see that the new heaven and new earth is a place where weapons are turned into farm equipment. We see that the new heaven and new earth is a place where there are no enemies–only children of God who feast in His presence and gloriously worship Him as they bask in His radiance and His light. We see the perfection of the new heaven and new earth and we cannot wait to taste it. We cannot wait to be a part of it. We cannot wait to experience this glory and submission to the Father and His will–and therefore we seek to implement it now. We seek to be a part of it now. We firmly place one foot in that heaven while having one foot on earth. And we seek to be at peace without spot or blemish–not because this is our ticket into that new heaven and new earth, but because we have already seen it, we have been made a part of it through Jesus, and we desire it.
Oh, and we want others to know it too. We want others to know what this new heaven and new earth will be like. We want others to know what peace and joy awaits them and how it makes life here more fulfilling. We want others to know that their lives have meaning and purpose–that the sun’s destruction of the earth pales in comparison to the Son’s saving of the earth. And we desire to let others know that they can be a part of this new heaven and new earth, and that admission comes not by what they do but by what Jesus has done.
And it is not only we who want others to know about this reality and be a part of it. God wants everyone to come in as well. God wants everyone to be a part of this new heaven and new earth. God wants as much of His creation to enjoy this new reality, and so He is patient. He waits to come. He wants the news of His redemption project to be preached and proclaimed. And so we live with one foot in that new heaven, and we walk with one foot here on earth at peace seeking to be pure and spotless all while proclaiming the deeds of Jesus and thanking God for His patience that we may add more to His Kingdom. Amen.
*The poem's title is "Assholes or Angels"